It is an unwritten rule of football that all blitzes shall have
highly macho, vaguely silly handles, and this one was no
exception. The blitz that essentially ended the 96th Red River
Shootout was named Slamdog. It called for Oklahoma strong safety
Roy Williams to shoot the gap between the left guard and tackle.
Having done so, however, Williams found himself facing Texas
tailback Brett Robin. The last time Williams had blitzed, earlier
in the fourth quarter, he had attempted to hurdle the blocking
back, and it hadn't gone well. Williams had taken a foot in the
groin, and Longhorns quarterback Chris Simms had scrambled past
him for 11 yards.
"Don't leave your feet!" Sooners defensive coordinator Mike
Stoops reminded Williams when he called that blitz again with
2:06 left, Oklahoma nursing a 7-3 lead and Texas pinned on its
own three-yard line. Williams didn't listen. He launched himself
over Robin and into Simms, hitting the quarterback as his passing
arm was coming forward. The ball squirted into the hands of
middle linebacker Teddy Lehman, whose two-yard return for a
touchdown made the score 14-3.
Williams then rubbed salt in the wound, intercepting Simms's next
pass to seal the Sooners' victory at the Cotton Bowl and extend
their winning streak to 18 games, best in the nation. The
defending national champions have beaten the last six Top 10
teams they've faced despite being underdogs in five of those
Texas's loss must have been particularly galling for coach Mack
Brown, and not only because it dropped the Longhorns (4-1) from
No. 5 to No. 11. Brown appears to have hit a wall in his attempt
to bring his program into contention for a national title. Since
his arrival in Austin three years ago Brown has restored pride
in Texas football. He is 31-12 and has recruited some of the
best talent in the country. The only thing he hasn't done is win
big games. (Brown's Longhorns are 3-8 against Top 10 teams.) The
grumbling that has emanated from fans and alumni since last
year's 63-14 Red River rout will now grow into howls of outrage.
This was the year Texas had a clear shot at the national
championship. Its schedule was a dream (no Kansas State, no
Nebraska), and its young talent--Simms and wideouts B.J. Johnson
and Roy Williams (no relation to Oklahoma's Roy Williams)--had
matured. The running game, which had been lost, was found: The
"thunder and lightning" combination of freshman sensation Cedric
Benson and redshirt sophomore Ivan Williams had amassed 593
yards in four games. Simms had spent countless hours over the
summer throwing to what was billed as one of the most dangerous
receiving corps in the nation.
After putting up gaudy numbers in its first four games against
teams that were a combined 7-13, the Texas offense sputtered
against Oklahoma. The Longhorns rushed for 27 yards while Simms
threw four interceptions and was sacked five times. One could not
help thinking, as the Texas offense spun its wheels, that
Longhorns senior quarterback Major Applewhite, the 1999 Big 12
offensive player of the year who is known for his grit and
resourcefulness, would have mustered more than a field goal with
such weapons at his disposal. Asked after the game if he
considered inserting his backup quarterback, Brown answered
curtly in the negative.
Even as he has labored to avoid a quarterback controversy this
season, Brown has bent over backward to make Applewhite feel a
part of the team, discussing strategy with him on the sideline
and telling anyone who will listen that Applewhite has a job on
his staff the minute he finishes playing. Nonetheless, members of
Longhorn Nation will demand to see him in a role other than
Whoever is taking the snaps, Texas will have to wait another year
to anoint itself a contender. Oklahoma's stunning romp in last
year's game launched the Sooners' title run. It also exposed the
Longhorns as an overrated collection of solo acts that was less
than the sum of its parts. Brown made changes in the off-season.
After naming Simms the full-time starter, the coach overhauled
the offense. For the first time since Ricky Williams left after
winning the Heisman Trophy in 1998, Texas worked to establish the
running game. Brown's desire for offensive balance led to the
emergence of redshirt sophomore tailback Ivan (Diesel) Williams,
who came into Saturday's game averaging 5.7 yards per carry. The
team awaiting Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl was tougher, better
balanced and more cohesive than the squad the Sooners embarrassed
a year ago.
In the end it didn't matter. Oklahoma, using a scheme similar to
the one with which it handcuffed Florida State to win the
national championship last January, shut down the Longhorns by
controlling the line of scrimmage and taking away the long ball.
To neutralize Texas's deep threats--Johnson and the other Roy
Williams--the Sooners often played five and six defensive backs.
Normally that makes you vulnerable to the run. Normally you
don't have an athlete like Oklahoma's Roy Williams on your
roster. Williams, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, is the key to the
Sooners' superb nickel defense. He's the rare strong safety who
covers like a cornerback and plays the run like a linebacker.
"He's the best defensive player I've played against," said Simms
after the game.
"He always finds a way to be where the ball is," says Sooners
coach Bob Stoops. "Run, pass, everything. He's got a great feel
for the game."
Asked to discuss that feel, Williams puts it this way: "Sometimes
I'll be on the field and it's like everything slows down, and I
feel untouchable. It's like in a movie, when you know something's
about to happen." It may be a premonition that he'll intercept a
pass. (He's picked off seven as a Sooner.) More often it's an
early warning that someone is about to get his mouthpiece knocked
out. Williams doesn't only make a ton of tackles--he has 45 this
season, second highest on the team--but he's also one of the most
punishing hitters in the nation. He established his reputation in
his second game, against TCU in '98. Williams was playing on the
kickoff team when, he recalls, a return man "cut right into me."
Williams knocked an ear pad out of the player's helmet and
knocked him out of the game.
"Roy's been bringing the thunder since we were seven years old,"
says Oklahoma wideout Damian Mackey, who grew up down the street
from Williams in Union City, Calif. When Roy was nine, he
knocked a running back unconscious in a youth league game. When
the boy came to, Roy's mother, Deborah, made her son walk over
and apologize to the lad.
As a senior at James Logan High, Williams was recruited by Miami,
Michigan and UCLA, among others. He chose Oklahoma to join
Mackey, his friend and high school teammate. Mackey had been
offered a scholarship to Stanford, but he injured a knee late in
his senior season, and the Cardinal withdrew its offer. Oklahoma
offered scholarships to both Mackey and Williams.
One game after waylaying that TCU kick returner, Williams
suffered a back injury, was redshirted and missed the rest of the
season, which ended with the firing of coach John Blake. When
Stoops and his staff arrived, Williams had ballooned to 235
pounds and couldn't make it through strength coach Jerry
Schmidt's winter workouts. Schmidt wasn't exactly a font of
compassion when Williams explained that he was nursing a bad
back. "If a guy told me he had back pain," Schmidt says, "I took
it to mean he was overweight or out of shape. Roy was both."
"That was a tough time for me," says Williams of the weight and
the injury. "I felt really lousy."
He responded by losing 20 pounds and making Sooners offensive
players feel his pain. When spring football began, Williams lit
people up. The coaches were suddenly his friends. "He was running
around making every tackle," says Bob Stoops. "It was easy to see
he was special."
As befits his extraordinary ability, Williams is on the field
with all of Oklahoma's special teams and for every defensive
play. In the second quarter on Saturday he scooped up a blocked
field goal and returned it 18 yards to the Sooners' 39-yard line.
That set up the game's only offensive touchdown.
That drive began with Nate Hybl at quarterback and finished with
Jason White under center. White, a sophomore from Tuttle, Okla.,
came off the bench in the second quarter after Hybl injured his
left shoulder when he was driven into the turf by Texas tackle
Marcus Tubbs. White gave the offense a shot in the arm,
completing three straight passes, converting a fourth-and-two
from the Longhorns' 30 on an option play and then lowering his
head at the end of an 11-yard scramble. On first-and-goal from
the two White called another option and pitched to tailback
Quentin Griffin, who ran 17 yards for the touchdown.
The Sooners had chances to extend their lead, but placekicker Tim
Duncan shanked a 24-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter.
(He also pulled a 42-yarder in the first.) Duncan lined up to try
another 24-yard field goal with 2:12 remaining but instead
received the snap directly and lofted a pooch punt toward the
Texas goal line. Inexplicably, Longhorns safety Nathan Vasher
decided to dive and catch the ball at the three rather than allow
it to bounce into the end zone for a touchback.
Simms would now have two minutes and six seconds to lead the team
97 yards. He was O.K. with that. The Longhorns had three
timeouts, and Simms had his security blanket, 6'5" Roy Williams
of Odessa, Texas. That's whom Simms was looking for when the
other Roy Williams took flight and crash-landed on the
quarterback's throwing arm, creating the turnover that sealed the
victory. "Of course I didn't want to start at the three," Simms
said, "but I thought, It'll just be a better storybook ending
with a 97-yard drive."
It was a storybook ending. For the other Roy Williams.
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER COVER TAKE THAT, TEXAS! Defending champion Oklahoma showed Chris Simms and the Longhorns that it's still a force
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER Air force In a game dominated by defense, Williams's flying hit on Simms led to the touchdown that sealed Oklahoma's win.
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Playing out his option Griffin hit pay dirt in the second quarter for what turned out to be the game's only offensive touchdown.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO To the rescue White (18) turned in a gutsy performance at quarterback after Hybl was knocked out of the game in the second quarter.
The Sooners shut down the Longhorns by controlling the line of
scrimmage and taking away the long ball.
Brown has restored pride in Texas football and recruited top
talent. The only thing he hasn't done is win big games.